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Bronzeville, Near South Side

Bud Billiken Parade Returning Saturday With COVID-19 Safety Steps

The 92-year-old back-to-school parade, a summertime Chicago mainstay, is returning with fewer kids and masks for some.

A photo of Kenwood Academy's Marching Band performing at a Bud Billiken parade.
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BRONZEVILLE — The Bud Billiken Parade will return Saturday, but it will look a little different.

The event, which draws up to 500,000 people every summer, was canceled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic. With the availability of vaccines and students preparing to return to the classroom this fall, parade organizers are bringing it back, but with safety precautions.

One slight change is the length of the staging area, which will run from 39th Street to 45th Street instead of starting at 35th Street. But the parade’s “footprint” will remain the same, with the procession beginning at 45th Street and ending at 55th Street, said Myiti Sengstacke-Rice, president of the Sengstacke Foundation, which organizes the parade.

The parade runs 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

“We’ve had to make some adjustments, but the great news is that we can have a parade,” Sengstacke-Rice said. “There were many events that had to sit out again this year, and we only had to sit out once in 92 years, so I’m excited about that.”

Another change is the number of participants, which has been cut in half. Typically, more than 250 groups from across the globe march down Martin Luther King Boulevard, but that was reduced for safety, Sengstacke-Rice said.

Kids in the parade must wear masks, and unvaccinated adults who will participate must produce a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of the event.

Sengstacke-Rice thinks those steps are necessary in light of the latest wave of COVID-19. The Delta variant has fueled a surge — particularly among unvaccinated people — and hospitalizations and deaths are once again rising.

One thing that will return is the Festival in the Park at the end of the parade route in Washington Park. Kids will be able to get free school supplies, haircuts and food, while families can pick up health and wellness information from the Chicago and Illinois health departments.

While the parade is usually broadcast live on ABC7, organizers have decided to prerecord it and air the program Aug. 21.

Organizers are also looking for volunteers. Those interested can sign up online.

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